Offering a nature-infused refuge from the Big Apple, the small towns and villages that make up the Hudson Valley have long lured jaded New Yorkers for revitalising weekends away in the pastoral upstate stretches. But there's much more to this picturesque region than dodging C-suite executives in their brand-new hiking boots; upstate New York is home to a hive of artisans and makers who are reforging a relationship with the land through hand-crafted goods and low-impact businesses.
Leah founded her consciously curated knitwear brand Wol Hide in her home state of Philadelphia in 2015, stocking cool knitwear made using natural materials sourced from small-scale farmers. Having grown up on the state line, she remains a regular Hudson Valley visitor, and many of the climate-beneficial farms that supply Wol Hide are located in the region, alongside a handful of independent boutiques that carry her soft, cosy jumpers. Read on for Leah's recommendations on what you won't want to miss when heading to upstate New York for a weekend away.
Farm-to-forks and fleeces: exploring the Hudson Valley with Wol Hide founder Leah D'Ambrosio
Nature-filled immersion in the Hudson Valley
Tell us the backstory to Wol Hide.
I started the brand in 2015. I felt like fashion businesses could be done better, operating successfully with empathy, quality, and respect as top priorities. My focus was on thoughtfully used materials. I also felt like more care could be given to all the people involved in the process, from the farmers and mill workers to the customers. This is still the main focus of the brand: to create easy, soft clothes that are made using quality construction, natural fibres and minimal processing.
What does the brand stand for?
I think you can distinguish one of our sweaters by the neutral palette, textural stitches and comfortable silhouette. There's a heavy focus on stitch development and yarn-mixing, all while staying within the constraints of undyed natural fibres. Our Easy Collection is a US-made and organic cotton range of loungewear basics.
Describe the Hudson's vibe.
When I think about upstate New York, I think mostly about being immersed in nature. It's such a beautiful place, where you can reinvigorate your appreciation for the land. The people who are drawn to live here have created such special communities, with unique and inspiring places to eat and shop.
What's the best time to visit?
Upstate New York is most beautiful when the seasons are changing, so my favourite time is fall. The foliage is turning, there are apples to pick, farms to visit, hikes taking in beautiful landscapes and cosy cabins to stay in. It makes for the quintessential fall experience.
Sweet treats at Bartlett House
What's the best way to explore the area?
You definitely need a car to get around. There's so much to see, across a vast space, and each little town has its own character, with quaint spots to check out.
What's your relationship to the region?
I grew up right next door, in western Connecticut, so I'm very familiar with, and comforted by, the region. I think growing up around so many farms and among nature instilled in me a lifelong respect for the land. My salesperson, Ada, also lives here. She's my guide to where to find the best food.
Also, this past fall was our second of sourcing yarn from small farms in the upstate New York area, using the Fibershed climate-beneficial regional yarn programme operated through New York Textile Lab. Supporting small farms in this region and showcasing the beautiful fibres that are native to the area is very rewarding.
Where should we base ourselves for a long weekend?
Hudson is a great town, with lots of cute shops and restaurants, and it's really close to some other smaller towns like Troy, Red Hook, Tivoli and Germantown. You're also right across the river from the Catskill Mountains. Find a cabin on Airbnb - a place where you can have a glass of wine by a fire at night and drink coffee in the crisp morning air.
The entrance to Rivertown Lodge
The best place to grab breakfast?
I often cook breakfast with local eggs and bread, but if I'm eating out, I'll head to Bartlett House, Rivertown Lodge or Breadfolks, for French patisserie. For the yummiest egg sandwich going, try Kitty's. It has a beautiful garden, too. And for something quintessentially American, with a state slant, try West Taghkanic Diner, which serves up a locally sourced take on classic diner food.
Where should we go for a low-key lunch?
Ollie's is my favourite pizza place, or you could try La Perche for delicious French fare. If you're wanting food on the go, Tivoli General is a cute spot for a snacks stop. And I can't wait to check out a newbie on Route 66, Quinnie's.
Any other gourmet venues we should know about?
Stone Barns, the site of acclaimed restaurant, Blue Hill, recently ran a chef-in-residence programme, where you could eat meals from a rotating roster of amazing chefs on the beautiful farm. It's also one of the farms from which we source some of our sheep's wool. For gourmet groceries to take back to your cabin, head to Talbott & Arding market. Oh, and Morningbird has amazing Southeast Asian food.
What's the dress code for a weekend away in the area?
I think you definitely need a pair of hiking shoes that you don't mind getting muddy. Layers are always good, too. Remember a warm sweater and a cosy hat for nighttime. Our Wol Hide bestsellers, the Box Bomber and Easy Pants, are ideal - and have been our customer favourites for a while.
Alpacas grazing the verdent farmland
For fresh air and nature, where should we head?
Anywhere you end up, you'll be able to find a good hiking route with beautiful views. The sculpture offering at Storm King Art Center is always fun to visit. Also, you should definitely visit a farm. I love Churchtown Dairy and Kinderhook Farm. You could also visit some of the farms we source our wool from, like Faraway Farm Alpacas, which gives tours on request, Sawkill Farm, La Basse Cour, Dashing Star Farm and Laughing Goat Fiber Farm.
Tell us about a place only locals know….
For a hike, High Falls in Claverack. It's a short trail that leads to an amazing waterfall. For a restaurant, try Kozel's. It hasn't changed since the Sixties and has the best $7 martini-and-clams deal.
Best way to spend our Sunday?
There will always be a farmers' market not far from where you're staying. I'd say go to one of those to pick up some bread, cheese and snacks, then head out to a hiking trail with a good view for a picnic. Stop at an antiques or vintage store along the way, and then end the day with a glass of wine by an open fire.
Any must-visit boutiques we can't miss?
In Hudson, there's Minna, for artisan-made home goods, Nina Z, for handmade clogs and great vintage picks, and Red Chair, for beautiful antiques. Kingston is where you'll find the region's seasonal makers' market, Field + Supply, and my favourite wine shop, Kingston Wine Co. MayerWasner is a great boutique selling curated eco-conscious womenswear in Narrowsburg and, closer to the Delaware water gap, there's also a cute antique and homeware store called River Gallery.
Homeware at MINNA
And somewhere to pick up a Wol Hide sweater?
You can find us at MayerWasner, and Abigail Rose & Lily Too in Nyack.
One misconception about upstate NY is….
I think a lot of people assume it's all NYC weekenders out here, but there's a rich culture of artists, farmers and people who want to live a little more connected to the land.
A book to read while we're there?
I've been wanting to read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer - a perfect book to enjoy while immersed in the region's nature. There's also Fibershed, a non-fiction book all about the regional fibre systems in the US, and Vanishing Fleece, which explores Catskill Merino, a Merino sheep farm in upstate NY, but that also tells a bigger story about the country's wool industry.
Something to bring back as a souvenir?
You should pick up some really good seasonal produce and locally made treats like jam, apple cider, honey, maple syrup or beeswax candles. I always bring home wine from Kingston Wine Co, too.